Would you believe me if I said a weekend at the snow cost me just $160? Way back in April I asked a friend if they could take me back country snow shoeing this winter, and last weekend it finally happened.
The Plan: A two day, 20km Snowshoe hike from Perisher Valley to Thredbo via Rams Head Range. It seemed easy enough…until a blizzard hit…
We drove 5hrs from Sydney, arriving late Friday night at Island Bend Campground in Kosciuszko National Park. After a few hours sleep we packed up the tent, cooked breakfast, met up with some friends and drove to Perisher Valley.
Starting on the Porcupine Track we clumsily broke in our snow shoes on our way out to Porcupine Rocks, then continued along Rams Head Range. Being my first time snow shoeing it was planned to be a long but very achievable trip; and with the slow start to the snow season, it was tipped to be almost disappointing. But as luck had it, the snow fell constantly for the week leading up, which gave us LOTS of very soft snow for walking on. While fun, it grew tiring sinking calf deep every step with a pack on…but we pushed on, grateful for such conditions.
Fast forward a few hours and we were still going, fatigued and climbing a hill, now sinking to our knees with almost each step. It was still fun, and still snowing, but so so tiring. By the afternoon we accepted the fact that we wouldn’t make it to our planned campsite, so found a sheltered spot near Charlotte Pass and dug ourselves a camp platform. By sunset we were snug in the tent, thawing out our frozen fingers and enjoying hot soup for dinner. The plan for the next day changed and we decided to turn around and head back to Perisher Valley. No phone reception meant the message to friends organising the car shuffle at Thredbo had to wait till morning.
It snowed all night, but with all the right gear we were warm in the tent. To go outside (even just to pee) the full kit was required, boots, rain pants and gaiters, because you were guaranteed to sink. Even just a few minutes without gloves and my fingers were frozen, meaning painful tingles as they warmed up again.
Sunday morning we woke up and slowly made porridge, putting off getting out of the tent. Eventually we were all packed and started down the hill, sinking back into yesterday’s footprints which had been re-filled with fresh snow. The further we got, the worse visibility got until we were in a total whiteout. 80km winds hit us from every direction, and snow felt like icy needles on my face; it was officially type two fun.
Eventually we reached the road into Perisher and made the most of the last 4.5km on solid ground. The wind was so strong we’d get pushed around, and visibility was still so poor the orange road markers seemed to jump out of nowhere. An oversnow vehicle eventually passed and gave us a lift on the back, dropping us off still far enough out of civilization that he wouldn’t get caught.
The message got through to our friends in Jindabyne who met us at Perisher at 2pm and dropped us at our car in Thredbo where we were meant to finish. We got changed, had some food and drove back home to Sydney, jumping into bed at 11pm, ready for work the next morning like nothing ever happened. It’s amazing what you can get out of a well planned weekend.
On reflection, considering the trip didn’t go to plan, I had a ball and at no time ever felt unsafe. This is why:
Navigation: We were never lost. Even in a total whiteout when we couldn’t see the pole line, we stayed close so not to lose each other, and continued moving. Using a GPS kept us on the right track meaning we didn’t miss the turnoff for the road which led us out much faster. We always had a plan.
Layering: I never got too cold because I got the layering perfect for the conditions. My beanie, hood, buff and goggles saved my face. On the top I had a thermal and Gortex rain jacket, adding a fleece jacket on the second day knowing it would be windy. On the bottom I had thermals, thin track pants and rain pants. On my feet were wool socks, waterproofed boots (which still eventually got wet), and gaiters, while ski gloves and liners kept my hands warm. The only times I felt cold was when I took my gloves off, or stopped long enough for my wet feet to cool in the snow.
Gear: Good gear will get you through anything. We hired a snow shovel, snow shoes and walking poles ($70), and everything else we either owned or borrowed. A four season tent lined with a space blanket and down insulated Exped sleeping mats kept the chill off the ground, while down sleeping bags, down jackets and thermals kept our bodies warm. Everything was stored in dry bags through the day, so was fine to use after two days in our wet packs. The only other costs were fuel and food for the trip, adding up to $90.
Experience: While it was my first time doing this, I was with a very experienced person who has been on plenty of snow trips, and other various trips lasting weeks away. They were the brains knowing how to set up a camp platform, where was safe to walk, what to pack and what to do if things went seriously pear shaped. Always make sure you have an experienced person on those risky trips!
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” – Unknown